Dying for a vacation? Head to Iceland and do these awesome outdoor sports. You'll feel far, far, far away from your desk. We promise.
Alexandra Baackes 1 / 11
Need a break from the office? An adventure trip smack in the middle of nature’s raw beauty is the best way to feel millions of miles away from reality. And we’ve found an out-of-the-way place to hide yourself for a week. Iceland, a tiny island nation with a population of just 320,000, offers some of the world’s best hiking, biking, scuba diving, kayaking, and climbing. Plus, if you’re looking to get a little social, don’t forget to save some of your mojo for the weekend <em>runters</em>—a bar hop through Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. From exploring the magma chamber of a volcano to summiting a glacier, there’s no place like Iceland to work up a sweat in the most unexpected ways.
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1. Descend Into A Volcano
There are plenty of places on Earth where you can hike up, around and above volcanoes. But so far, there is only destination where you can go <em>inside</em> one. Is it any surprise that it’s located in the geological It-Country of Iceland? The dormant Thrihnukagigur Volcano can be penetrated with a little bit of exertion, a fair amount of <em>kroner</em> (Iceland´s currency), and a major dose of bad-ass. You’ll have to hike about 45 minutes to get to the crater, but that’s the easy part. After, you’ll descend 400 feet through a magma chamber in an innovative, open cable lift. Once at the bottom, you can spend up to an hour exploring the volcano—or as long as you dare. ($295; <a href="http://www.insidethevolcano.com” target="_blank">insidethevolcano.com</a>)
2. Scuba Dive at Silfra
Scuba diving, or really any water-based activity, might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you fantasize about conquering Iceland. Yet Silfra is consistently listed among the world’s top dive sites. Why? First off, it's located on a rift between the tectonic plates which grows 2 cm. wider every year, meaning divers can float through a crack between the American and Eurasian continents. Second, the visibility (usually about 100 meters) in this freezing glacial water rivals that of the air above, making it virtually impossible not to appreciate the neon colors and other-worldly topography. While you’ll suffer the 2°C - 4°C temperatures even in a dry suit, there’s nothing like removing your regulator and taking a sip of the crystal clear liquid surrounding you. For those that have yet to take the plunge with a scuba certification, snorkeling trips are also available. ($240; <a href="http://www.scuba.is” target="_blank">scuba.is</a>)
3. Snowmobile Across a Glacier
Snæfellsjökull is one of the world’s most famous glaciers, thanks to its prominent role in Jules Verne’s <em>Journey To The Center of the Earth</em>, as well as its reputation among mystics as one of the world’s major energy centers. And what better way to absorb that energy than to snowmobile all over it? Snowmobilers suit up at the ever-changing snow-line and then race their way across ice fields, between snow mounds, and alongside postcard-worthy views all the way to the exhilarating summit 1,446 meters (4,800 feet!) above sea level. Once there you'll be treated to views of the entire Snæfellsnes Peninsula, from its black sand beaches and rugged mountains to the beautiful bays beyond. To take advantage of the 24 hours of daylight in the summer, midnight snowmobile tours are also on offer. ($205; <a href="http://www.snjofell.is/english" target="_blank">snjofell.is</a>)
4. Sea Kayak through the Fjords
Nothing beats the exhilaration of captaining your own sea kayak over the serene waters of a rugged glacial fjord. An easy day trip from Reykjavik, the quiet Hvalfjörður inlet lies deep in a ring of mountains that reach more than 3000 feet above the sea. Experienced guides lead paddles around the coastline and to the shores of the idyllic Icelandic countryside. If that’s not enough of an upper body workout for you, sign up for a multi-day kayaking expedition through Langisjór Lake in the Icelandic highlands. ($120; <a href="http://www.adventures.is/iceland/seakayaking/fjordserenity" target="_blank">adventures.is</a>)
5. Explore a Lava Tunnel
Get up close and personal with the history of how Iceland was formed when you descend into a subterranean playground. Even novice spelunkers can enjoy the winding lava tunnels and the twisted rock formations left behind by raging volcanoes, deep underground. The Leidarendi lava tube, easily accessible from the capital, is nearly half a mile long with certain stretches that will force you to get on your knees and crawl. These passageways were formed when surface lava hardened, yet liquid lava raged on in tubes below—a path you’ll find yourself following. ($75; <a href="http://www.extremeiceland.is/en/caving-iceland/leidarendi" target="_blank">extremeiceland.is</a>)
6. Surf on the Coast
The thought of surfing might conjure up images of Hawaii or Bali rather than Iceland, but the passionate staff at Arctic Surfers is working to change that. Not surprisingly the only surf company in the country, Arctic Surfers promises world-class waves, crowd-free lineups, and raw natural beauty. With more than 3,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline, Iceland receives swells from every direction. While trips are available year-round, the conditions are best in late spring and early fall, when water temperatures are similar to those found in the United Kingdom. But don’t worry—they always supply Icelandic water-tested wetsuits. (Rates available upon request; <a href="http://www.arcticsurfers.is/" target="_blank">arcticsurfers.is</a>)
7. Raft on The Hvítá River
Like scuba diving, rafting might not seem like the ideal sport for Iceland, with its frigid year round water temps. Yet the Hvítá River will seduce you into changing your mind with its scenic mix of canyons, rushing rapids, and adrenaline surges. The seven-kilometer run of powerful river is interrupted only by a stop at Brúarhlöð canyon, where fearless rafters cliff-jump into the glacial waters. ($80; <a href="http://www.arcticrafting.com" target="_blank">arcticrafting.com</a>)
8. Quad Bike Through Lava Fields
Since it can be experienced regardless of the weather, off-road quad biking offers a year-round adrenaline high and gives you up close access to off the track trails, rough terrain, and extreme conditions. Driving a super-sized quad across lava fields, through canyons, and via mountain valleys in the raw beauty of the Blafjoll region is an experience not to be missed. ($100; <a href="http://www.adventures.is/Iceland/ATVQuads/" target="_blank">adventures.is</a>)
9. Ice Climb up a Glacier
True to its moniker, Iceland is a haven for ice climbers, and frozen-water-scaling junkies will be thrilled to find uncharted routes and plenty of solitude in previously mapped areas. Neophytes need not feel left out though, with no-experience-necessary trips on offer to the Sólheimajökull glacier. Ice axes, crampons and safety lines are all provided, so all you need to worry about is how to slip your recent glacier-summiting experience into casual conversation when you get back home. ($125; <a href="http://www.adventures.is/iceland/IceClimbing" target="_blank">adventures.is</a>)
10. Survive a Weekend Runter
After all that physical exertion, the truly adventurous unwind by tackling Reykjavik’s nightlife with a vengeance. And weekends in Iceland’s capital city are capped off with some of the most raucous action in all of Europe—a party scene so infamous it needed its own name. <em>Runter</em> refers to the bar and club hop that practically every resident of the country participates in. Party night staples include the affectionately nicknamed “Black Death,” also known as Brennivín Icelandic schnapps, and hot dogs on the street—the ultimate Icelandic drunken-indulgence. For more information on bars and clubs, see <a href="http://www.grapevine.is/media/pdf/issue_7_barguide_new.pdfwww.grapevine.... target="_blank">Grapevine Magazine’s Reykjavík Bar Guide</a>.